“With every flower blossoms power”. Protesters have been leaving chrysanthemum and jasmine flowers in front of Southern Weekly’s Guangzhou headquarters. Image via CDT.
Today saw a second round of protests outside the Southern Weekly’s headquarters in Guangzhou as several hundred people staged a peaceful demonstration demanding an end to government interference in the media, in an ongoing fight over censorship that threatens to consume either the Guangdong propaganda department or Southern Weekly itself.
On that note, Beijing Cream received a tip this afternoon, ostensibly from someone at the public relations department of the Nanfang Media Group (which publishes Southern Weekly, among other papers) that the paper was being shut down. This rumour has since been denied by an official at Nanfang Media, but does raise the spectre of what might befall the Southern Weekly should this battle with the government not go their way. Even newspapers free from government censorship have been shut down when there is simply too much scandal for them to go on as usual.
According to the SCMP, anti-censorship protesters weren’t the only ones out in force in Guangzhou:
Scores of leftists staged a rival protest, criticising the paper as “a tool of American imperialism”, denying the existence of censorship and engaging in fierce debate with the paper’s supporters.
Image credit: James Miles. “Small group of leftists only persistent protesters outside Southern Weekend, Spectators wave 50 cents at them.”
While these “leftists” may seem like Bizarro world idiots, blind to censorship and still labouring under a cold war mindset of ‘us vs the West’, this is in fact the Party line (the deeply cynical might even suggest that these ‘protesters’ were bused in to make the government’s case, as they were in the anti-Japan protests late last year). A recent edict from the Central Propaganda Bureau, intended for media executives but leaked to China Digital Times, sets out the Party’s strategy for dealing with the crisis (emphasis added):
Central Propaganda Department: Urgent Notice Concerning the Southern Weekly New Year’s Message Publication Incident: Responsible Party committees and media at all levels must be clear on three points related to this matter: (1) Party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle; (2) This mishap at Southern Weekly has nothing to do with Guangdong Propaganda Department Head Tuo Zhen; (3) External hostile forces are involved in the development of the situation. Every responsible work unit must demand that its department’s editors, reporters, and staff discontinue voicing their support for Southern Weekly online. Starting tomorrow, media and websites in all locales must prominently republish the Global Times editorial “Southern Weekly’s ‘Message to Readers’ Is Food for Thought Indeed.” (January 7, 2013)
The Global Times’ editorial is a masterpiece of wrongheaded propaganda and outright lies. The Times editorial board (or perhaps just editor in chief Hu Xijin) stick their heads in the sand and deny that the whole affair is even taking place (translation by Fei Chang Dao).
Also, based on what the Global Times has learned from its own independent channels, the “modified version” was actually not written by the Guangdong Party Committee Propaganda Department.
Whether these people like it or not, this is common sense: given the current state of China’s society and government, the kind of “free media” that these people yearn for in their hearts simply cannot exist. All of China’s media can develop only to the extent China does, and media reform must remain part-and-parcel of China’s overall reform, and the media absolutely will not become a “political special zone” of China.
John Kennedy of the SCMP points out that not all Chinese newspapers are taking the Global Times toadying lead, while they couldn’t come out openly against censorship, a number of news organisations hid messages of support for the Southern Weekly in their headlines:
The messages read (translation by Beth Main):
- 南方周末加油 Come on Southern Weekend
- 南方周末 Southern Weekend
- 南方周末 Southern Weekend
- 南方周末加油 Come on Southern Weekend
- 南周前进一财邮情支持倪 Forge on Southern Weekend, Yicai’s friendship supports you (邮you and 情qing sound the same as友情youqing friendship) and (倪ni sounds like 你ni)
- 南方周末挺住 Southern Weekend stand firm
- 南周挺住 Southern Weekend stand firm
The next issue of the Southern Weekly is due to publish on Thursday, propaganda officials are reportedly keen for this to take place as normal, despite the ongoing protests and the fact that numerous editors and reporters are refusing to work.
On Tuesday, the paper’s editorial committee was to hold a fourth round of negotiations with its top management, which is part of the provincial propaganda office, according to a Southern Weekly editor. The editor spoke on condition of anonymity because of an internal directive not to talk to the foreign media.
Propaganda officials want the newspaper to publish – as per normal – on Thursday but editors are negotiating over whether to do so, and the terms under which they would be willing, for example, if they could include a letter to readers explaining the incident, the editor said.
The committee is also pushing a larger appeal to abolish censorship of the newspaper’s content prior to publication, the editor said. The suggestion is that Communist Party leaders could provide direction but not interfere with reporting and editing, and should refrain from taking issue with content until after publication, the editor said.
Update #1: Whichever person at CCTV who approved broadcasting V for Vendetta in December may soon be out of a job:
Some freedom of speech advocates wearing v for vendetta masks. Said he saw the movie on CCTV recently and ordered the mask
— Jonah Kessel (@jonah_kessel) January 8, 2013
NB: Previous posts erroneously referred to the paper at the heart of the protests as the ‘Southern Weekend’, though this is a literal translation of the Chinese name (南方周末, Nánfāng zhōumò) the official English name for the paper is Southern Weekly, which will be used from now on.